By now you know that ESPN held another round of layoffs that included an abnormally large percentage of forward facing talent. And by now you probably know that this isn’t just about ESPN, but the media landscape in general.
The path to a career in sports broadcasting/journalism used to be clear: Get noticed, get reps, climb the ladder. Then continue to perfect the roles your predecessors created and crafted.
Welcome to the new world. That trajectory will take you nowhere now. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
Being an anchor in sports television barely exists in the realm of local news anymore. That shift changed years ago as sports became less and less of a priority for the previous content of the markets. The networks are following suit. By cutting talent mainly involved with the brand Sportscenter, ESPN is saying that the role of anchor is not the path to success at the highest level. So we have to shift.
Lets not simplify the decision making at ESPN as a sign of changing viewing habits, although clearly this was part of the decision making of who would be affected by the networks correction. Cord cutting accelerated at a rate that ESPN may have not been prepared for. With subscriber fees not as plentiful, the rights deals start constituting a large mortgage payment pinching Disney’s bottom line. The point is, this was not just about the talented people who lost their jobs.
Fox Sports 1 has challenged ESPN on the basic premise that viewing habits have indeed changed.. The formula of the duel anchor highlight/news show have become archaic. As it turns out, they are right, but not because they have closed the ratings gap with ESPN in any real tangible way. They are right because ESPN is altering their programming belief system by rewarding opinion makers who thrive on multiple platforms over the tried and true method of sports presentation.
This recent news should not be perceived as a shrinking of the market, although for veterans of the craft, it is laced in professional peril. For young broadcasters, it is important for you to shift your thinking to what is valued by producers and executives: versatility, smart opinion and authenticity.
Knowing the history of the industry should give optimism in your pursuits. Consider what radio sounded like years ago. Now consider what audio opportunity exists now. It didn’t evaporate, it evolved. Journalism is not dead. Writers are just having to find or create platforms that draw audiences. So the safety net has holes in it, but wouldn’t you prefer to be part of the more constructive writing of the future with opportunity to diversify your voice? And TV/Digital content is no different. What consumers are telling the producers is that the way things used to be presented aren’t paying the bills the way they used to. So creativity and versatility are necessary. Consider the path of those who came before you. Our path was about filling a hole competently. This world offers the opportunity to build a foundation, not be part of the woodwork of one.
Here’s what is never going to disappear, the need for entertainment. So find your voice and feel empowered to do it your way. Talent evaluators have never been more open minded to your ideas. And for the veterans who see a frightening landscape, the charge is to reinvent. That, I hope would be an idea that is worth embracing, not being scared of.